About 88km southwest of Chitrakut, the abandoned star-shaped fortress of KALINJAR looks down on the Gangetic valley from the final escarpments of the craggy Vindhya hills, above the town of the same name. Much of the fort has been reclaimed by dry shrubby forest, populated by monkeys; once-grand avenues are now rocky footpaths that wind through the few crumbling yet ornately carved buildings that remain. Kalinjar has no tourist facilities to speak of – most of those who do come are either on day-trips from Chitrakut or Allahabad, or stay in Banda, which is on major train and bus routes and is connected to Kalinjar by local buses.

Steep steps lead straight up for 3km from Kalinjar village to the fort’s main gate, Alam Darwaza, but the southern Panna Gate has rock carvings depicting seven deer (like the fort’s seven gates, these represent the then-known planets). Beneath Bara Darwaza, the “Large Gate”, in the artificial cave of Sita Sej, a stone couch dating from the fourth century holds some of Kalinjar’s earliest inscriptions. The fort’s colossal rambling battlements provide sweeping views of the Gangetic plain and the Vindhya hills.

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